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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Those Irritating Writing Police

Nothing will get me going more than to have someone, be it an English teacher or a student or a tutor, rip a beginning writer's (I say "beginning" because I truly believe the majority of the students I work with don't have a clear understanding of the tools available to writers) paper apart by doing or saying any or all of the following:

Doing:
  • Crossing out the writer's words;
  • Crossing out the writer's words and replacing with something else (this one makes me furious);
  • Crossing out an entire paragraph;
  • Writing a negative comment in the margin and adding three exlamation points after it.
Saying:
  • Don't use contractions (oops! I just used one myself, and I'm an English teacher);
  • Don't use I, we, or you in the paper;
  • Don't italicize a word unless it comes from a source you are referring to and is italicized in that source;
  • Don't use one word as a sentence;
  • Don't start a sentence with because;
  • Don't start a sentence with and or but;
  • Don't ever all-cap a word;
  • Don't write long sentences because they'll be run ons (huh? long automatically equals run on?).
Sheesh. Really?

Nothing will crush a beginning writer's spirits more than having a person (English teacher, peer, tutor) cross out her work, effectively silencing her voice, while simultaneously wagging the index finger at her and telling her NOT to do all of these things. If a sentence is awkward and confusing, just tell the writer it is so. Let the writer tackle the sentence and rewrite it, hopefully clearing up the awkwardness and confusion. If the writer uses a contraction, simply ask if the assignment allows for such informal language. Same goes for all the other don'ts on the list--ask the writer what her intentions were rather than slamming the door closed all the way around.

End of rant.

To my student whose spirits were visibly crushed today because another student did all of these things and more, I believe in you and your writing abilities. When I read your paper, I smiled from beginning to end because you took risks and played with the language. In the process, you also offered me a glimpse into the extraordinary life of a man who has touched many lives. Even though I read your paper three weeks ago, I still remember the way you turned a phrase and brought life to the words on the page. You communicated with me, and  that's exactly what good writing does.

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